An Employment Lawyer’s Take on Valentine’s Day. Keep the Cards at Home.

You know, we employment lawyers and HR professionals generally get a really bad rap. Kill joys. Party Poopers (can I say that in this thing?). Fuddy-duddies (my grandma used to say that). Every time someone wants to have some fun in the office, in we come, looming over everyone saying NO! Guess what, nothing in this post is going to make you think anything different. I’m going to spoil all of your Valentine’s Day fun at the office. Valentine’s Day may be a time for you and your spouse or you and your significant other or you and your boyfriend or girlfriend, but it is decidedly not a time for you and your subordinate. And I have written about this before, not in this blog, but I have written about it. You’re going to have to trust me. I even was quoted in Above the Law. Now to most of you that is not a big deal, but to lawyers it is. Even a bigger deal than the TV interview I once did on this very topic. But enough ringing my own bell, back to good old St. Valentine. To start with, who exactly is St. Valentine and why do we have a holiday celebrating him? Let’s ask the History Channel:

“Every February 14, across the United States and in other places around the world, candy, flowers and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. But who is this mysterious saint, and where did these traditions come from?”

See http://www.history.com/topics/valentines-day/history-of-valentines-day

What a great question, in fact I just asked it and I want to know too. And then what I usually do after I find out, is make some strained connection to some employment law point and call it a post. But not this time. Oh, I’m still going to make an employment law point, but the connection here is just not that strained.

Back to the History Channel.com

“The history of Valentine’s Day–and the story of its patron saint–is shrouded in mystery. We do know that February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and that St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. But who was Saint Valentine, and how did he become associated with this ancient rite?”

Id.

Now before we go any further, let me point out a couple of things from those quotes: Look, “gifts exchanged between loved ones” and “celebrated as a month of romance.” Starting to get the picture? See, “romance” and “office” equal “bad.” Not that strained after all. OK good, now back to the History Channel. I’m not going into all the stories of the Saints who may or may not be the real St. Valentine. But I am going to talk about some of that Roman tradition they mention. Again, according to the History Channel:

“While some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial–which probably occurred around A.D. 270–others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia.”

Id. (again).

What do we care about “Lupercalia”? Really nothing, but get this, according to the History Channel on Lupercalia Roman priests would go to a cave where the founders of Rome (Romulus and Remus for those of you that didn’t know) were supposedly raised by a wolf, sacrifice a goat (and a dog), cut the goat hide into strips, dip the strips of goat hide into the blood and walk around town “gently slapping” people with the goat hide.” Id. (for those of you who wonder what Id. means, it means same cite as the last cite.) So what does this have to do with love and Valentine’s Day? Well, getting smacked with a blood dipped goat hide was a fertility rite, not really romance, but close. Oh those wacky Romans. So, I told you that story to ask you this: Does anyone think it is appropriate to walk around the office slapping people with goat hides? Of course not! All right, that one was a bit strained, but on to more recent history.

Seems as though Valentine’s Day was first associated with romance and love in the middle ages.

“The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. (The greeting is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.) Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.”

Id. (one more time).

Now you have to admit, that is pretty romantic isn’t it? Much more romantic than being slapped with a goat hide. Plus, it has to do with Agnicourt, which I think is kind of cool because I happen to be a fan of that particular period of history.

And so we get to modern times. See, I always thought that greeting card companies invented Valentine’s Day, like I thought they invented Mother’s Day and my favorite fake holiday, Sweetest Day, just to sell more cards. Wait, that didn’t come out right, Mom, I don’t really think Mother’s Day is a fake holiday. According to Wikipedia about 190 million valentine cards are sent each year. And some of them have those little candy hearts in them and those cards and those little hearts say things like “BE MINE” and “LOVE YOU” and even “TRUE LOVE.” And that is where we get to the punch line and tie this whole thing back to you ending up in HR because your subordinate feels like you are being “Creepy.”

You see, a holiday that is dedicated to romance and love and, as young boys everywhere would say, all that “icky stuff” is not a holiday you want to be celebrating at work. Want to bring in heart shaped donuts for the staff? Go ahead, how very nice of you. Here is what you don’t do. You don’t buy your subordinates a card. And you don’t buy presents. As I famously said once before, there is no Valentine’s Day exception to the sexual harassment laws. And just like it is bad form to smack your subordinates with a goat hide, it is also bad form to buy them a card for a holiday dedicated to love. You’re right, it was a bit strained, but I told you I was going to spoil all your fun.